From Above




I was single (or in shortish term relationships that were never going to work) for a long long time. When Caroline and I met after I had turned 40, it was with some reluctance that I gave up to the ageless wisdom of the mother:

“Marriage is hard enough when you are with someone from a similar background. If you marry someone that comes from a different background, you put a lot of additional obstacles in your way.”

My mom and dad were married for 42 years when he passed. So I think she might have some authority on the subject. I ended up marrying a woman that shared my family values, a South African ‘plaasmeisie’ who was also a business owner, a lover of travel and someone who liked things to be right and tidy, who cared deeply about her friends and family and had similar dreams and hopes for her future.

I think my mom had it 95% right, you know. If you are going to commit to a long-term relationship, you need values to be aligned. I think backgrounds can be different, but if the values don’t line up, Houston we have a problem. A shared vision for the future is also imperative, and if being a parent to two busy young boys has taught me anything, strong communication and a solid tactical plan are vital.

Business is the same way. Your partners and you need to be aligned on all of the above. Recruitment and motivation need to rest squarely on values and shared vision. And to communicate communicate communicate on progress and how we are doing on the tactics… that’s probably the hardest thing.

In my colourful dating past, I had one or two experiences where the person was incredible in many ways – but we were completely misaligned in one or two areas that were non-negotiable, and of course, it didn’t work. Looking back, I also need to take full accountability for my lack of experience and naivety. Hope is not a strategy, hey. But you live and you learn. In business, I have hired people that were great but were misaligned with who the company was and where we were going in crucial ways. And again, it just didn’t pan out.

I really like the Jim Collins Mission to Mars exercise to define YOUR values. Looking at the five or six people you would take on a rocket ship with you, and clearly identifying why you think they are amazing, helps you to clarify what is important to you. This, in turn, helps one to establish the non-negotiables that are the DNA of your business and family life.

Dan Pink’s book The Power of Regret also has a great metaphor. Regrets we have are like a photo negative – it is the inverse of what is truly important. Regret the way you acted as a bully when you were 10 years old to this day? Well, that just means you now value fairness and kindness. Regret that you never asked that cute girl out at University? Probably indicates today that you value being bold and taking chances, and still work hard at doing so.

My mother not only taught me a bunch of really important values in my life, but more importantly, she did (and still does) live her life by those values. Values of hard work and commitment and living by principles. How to balance family and work and personal pursuits, how to live with intention, take care of family and elders, and make all your children feel valued and important. When to put others’ needs first and when to make sure to look after yourself.

Following her example has served me well.

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